Obama : 201502 - Cybersecurity and "we owned the internet"
- Kara Swisher
- Thank you for being here, Mr. President.’’
- President Barack Obama
- Great to be here.
- Very excited to do an interview with Re/code. And we have a lot of topics to talk about in tech.
- Lets go.
- Were going to go from cyber security, your relationship with Silicon Valley, privacy, STEM education.
- Got it all covered.
- Got it all covered, all right.
- Lets go.
- Mr. Tech, okay. So lets talk about cyber security first. This is a cyber security summit. You had Tim Cook talking about it, all kinds of different leaders.
- The dangers of whats happening. Right now, theres been a lot of instances of cyber security breaches, Sony being the most famous.
- The government said North Korea was behind this?
- Are these acts of war?
- I wouldnt consider them acts of war. But I would consider them acts of property damage, commercial theft, that are serious. And whenever a criminal act like that is state-sponsored, its a problem. I just had a terrific roundtable with CEOs and chief information officers from a whole bunch of different sectors of the economy.
- And one of the uniform things they said was state actors are in a different category because of the sophistication and the resources and the patience that they have. Thats an area where [the] private sectors going to have to get help immediately from the government in a much more aggressive way, and a lot of what were doing in terms of information sharing, gathering data, getting it out, disseminating it all throughout the economy much quicker weve gotten better at that.
- Then what you have is a bunch of non-state actors, hackers, criminals, etc., that are just flooding the system, constantly probing for weaknesses. And part of what this summit is about is both making sure that we have mechanisms for government/private sector cooperation, increased consumer awareness of how they can reduce their vulnerabilities, how we can build better defenses, how we can respond better and more resiliently. And one of the big conclusions is this is moving so fast that weve got to have a more nimble system. This isnt a traditional setting where you can just set up a few standards or rules or regulations, and then just sit on our laurels. We have to constantly update all the time.
- But what does it have to be to become more serious? Shutting down New York? Were very vulnerable, as we become more digital.
- Were hugely vulnerable. Weve started with critical infrastructure. Thats an area where heavy involvement with those industries whether its Wall Street and the financial sector, utilities, our air-traffic control system all of that, increasingly, is dependent on the digital base that theyre working off of.
- And so a lot of concentration there first. And one of the challenges is that a lot of this is private sector the vast bulk of it is private sector. The government has to be able to not only work with each individual company, weve got to be able to pull those companies together so theyre working together more effectively. And one of the things that makes this such a challenging problem is, all you need is one weak link. You can have nine companies .
- Well, in any defense.
- Right. You can have nine companies that have great protocols, authentication systems, you name it. You have one thats not doing a good job, and that penetrates the entire system. So I think everybody recognizes now the degree of seriousness.
- The key is to coordinate more effectively the legislation that weve put before Congress that, for example, provides companies with some selective liability protections so that when they share information, theyre not vulnerable to future lawsuits. Those are the kinds of areas where I would like to see us make a lot of progress this year.
- We talk about North Korea being this bad actor around
- We do our own hacking of other countries. Theres been lots of reports about the Iran nuclear system and things like that. Can we make a good argument that we should be protected against them, when were doing the same thing ourselves?
- Obviously, I cant talk about specifics and whether
- But please do. [Laugh]
- whether confirming or denying whatever you discuss. I mentioned in the CEO roundtable a comment that was made by one of my national security team. This is more like basketball than football, in the sense that theres no clear line between offense and defense. Things are going back and forth all the time.
- We have great capabilities here. But there are other countries that have great capabilities, as well. Eventually, what were going to need to do is to find some international protocols that, in the same way we did with nuclear arms, set some clear limits and guidelines, understanding that everybodys vulnerable and everybodys better off if we abide by certain behaviors. In the meantime, we have to have sufficient capability to defend ourselves.
- Is that just defense? Or offense?
- I wont lie to you, this is a debate that we have internally. Because when you develop sufficient defenses, the same sophistication you need for defenses means that potentially you can engage in offense. Now, there are some things that were very clear about. For example, we just dont do industrial espionage the way many other countries do, where their state-sponsored operations are going in and stealing information commercially.
- Most of the work that we do revolves around threats against us from non-state actors, and obviously terrorism is a huge field. And increasingly, cyber terrorism is going to be something that were concerned about. But we are going to have to build in a whole set of safeguards to make sure that we are upholding high standards if we expect others to do the same.
- Im going to switch to something else in a second. But should there be a cyber army? Should we our government have this dedicated, the way they do in North Korea or China?
- Well, what we have is a separate cyber structure, a cyber command that coordinates a lot of this activity, partly because our defense systems today, our armed forces, are dependent on the digital world in the same way that it has penetrated everything else. So this separate cyber command monitors, defends, focuses on protecting not only the Department of Defense and our armed forces, but also critical infrastructure, and is constantly monitoring what other state actors potentially could do. But just to give you a sense of how challenging this is its not as if North Korea is particularly good at this.
- They did not bad.
- But look how much damage they were able to do. Non-state actors can do a lot damage, as well. So weve got to constantly upgrade our game, and thats part of the purpose of this.
- Are there any countries youre worried about, comparatively? North Korea, not so good. Whos good?
- Well China and Russia are very good. Iran is good. And were constantly engaged in a dialogue with these countries in the same way that we engage in a dialogue around nuclear arms, indicating to them that it doesnt serve anybodys purpose for us to attack in ways that may end up eliciting responses, and everybodys worse off.
- Lets talk about the relationship between you and Silicon Valley. Lots of discussion about who wasnt here, and tensions, and sort of, can this marriage be saved? How do you look at your relationship right now with Silicon Valley? Theyre nervous about the NSA, theyre still hurting about that. Visas, Zero-Day flaws, all kinds of things.
- You know, look. Its your job to generate some controversy, but
- Now, some controversy [Laugh] Some of those quotes from the Google people are pretty tough.
- But I think its also fair to say that my relationship with Silicon Valley and the tech community has historically been really good. Many of these folks are my friends, and have been supporters, and we interact all the time.
- Well, theyre still giving a lot of money to
- But what is true is that the Snowden disclosures were really harmful in terms of the trust between the government and many of these companies, in part because it had an impact on their bottom lines. When you look back at what weve done, I have constantly tried to update the laws and rules governing how we operate in cyberspace with these new technologies.
- In the case of the NSA, were probably a little slow. The truth is that what we did with respect to U.S. persons, what we did in this country, was strictly circumscribed. And, generally speaking, I can say with almost complete confidence that there havent been abuses on U.S. soil.
- But its a global Internet world.
- And thats the point.
- And theyre businesses.
- And that has been the challenge. What is true and Ive said this publicly, so Im not saying anything thats classified in any way our capacities to scoop up information became so great, and traditionally there havent been restraints on our intelligence community scooping up information from outside our borders and non-U.S. persons.
- So what ended up happening was that, in places like Germany, this had a huge impact not just on government-to-government relations, but suddenly all the Silicon Valley companies that are doing business there find themselves challenged, in some cases not completely sincerely. Because some of those countries have their own companies who want to displace ours.
- I say all this to make the point that I think we have made real progress in narrowing the differences around the national security/privacy balance. There are still some issues like encryption that are challenging.
- Lets talk about encryption. Whats wrong with what Google and Apple are doing? You have encrypted email shouldnt everybody have encrypted email, or have their protections?
- Everybody should. And Im a strong believer in strong encryption. Where the tension has come up, historically, what has happened, is that lets say you knew a particular person was involved in a terrorist plot. And the FBI is trying to figure out who else were they communicating with, in order to prevent the plot.
- Traditionally, what has been able to happen is that the FBI gets a court order. They go to the company, they request those records the same way that theyd go get a court order to request a wiretap. The company technically can comply. The issue here is that partly in response to customer demand, partly in response to legitimate concerns about consumer privacy the technologies may be built to a point where, when the government goes to
- They cant get the information.
- The company says, Sorry, we just cant pull it. Its so sealed and tight that, even though government has a legitimate request, technologically we cannot do it.
- Is what theyre doing wrong?
- No, I think they are properly responding to a market demand. All of us are really concerned about making sure our
- So what are you going to do?
- Well, what were going to try to do is to see: Is there a way for us to narrow this gap? Ultimately, everybody and certainly this is true for me and my family we all want to know that if were using a smartphone for transactions, sending messages, having private conversations, that we dont have a bunch of people compromising that process.
- So theres no scenario in which we dont want really strong encryption. The narrow question is going to be if there is a proper request for this isnt bulk collection, this isnt sort of fishing expeditions by government.
- Where there is a situation in which were trying to get a specific case of a possible national security threat is there a way of accessing it? If it turns out its not, then were really gonna have to have a public debate. And, you know, I think some in Silicon Valley would make the argument which is a fair argument, and I get that the harms done by having any kind of compromised encryption are far greater
- Thats an argument you used to make.
- You would have made. Has something changed with
- No, I still make it. Its just that I am sympathetic to law enforcement.
- Because years [ago], you were much stronger on civil liberty.
- Im as strong as I have been. I think the only concern is our law enforcement is expected to stop every plot. Every attack. Any bomb on a plane. The first time that attack takes place in which it turns out that we had a lead and we couldnt follow up on it, the publics going to demand answers.
- And this is a public conversation that we should end up having. I lean probably further in the direction of strong encryption than some do inside of law enforcement. But I am sympathetic to law enforcement because I know the kind of pressure theyre under to keep us safe. And its not as black-and-white as its sometimes portrayed.
- Now, in fairness, I think the folks who are in favor of airtight encryption also want to be protected from terrorists.
- One of the interesting things about being in this job is [that] it does give you a birds-eye view. You are smack-dab in the middle of these tensions that exist. But I guess what I would say is, there are times where folks who see this through a civil-liberties or privacy lens reject that theres any trade-offs involved, and in fact there are. And youve got to own the fact that it may be [that] we want to value privacy and civil liberty far more than we do
- The safety issues. But we cant pretend that there are no trade-offs whatsoever.
- Lets go quickly into privacy. Theres a privacy bill youve all been trying to pass forever, with some teeth in it.
Who owns their data? And, on the other side of the companies, have you all acquiesced too far to the Facebooks and Googles of the world, when Europe is being much more stringent?
- I think you own your data, I think I own my data. I think we own our health-care data, I think we own our financial data.
- Doesnt feel like it.
- I think this is an area where, ironically, sometimes I also have tensions with Silicon Valley because folks are quite keen on talking about government intrusion. [Laugh] But some of the commercial models that are set up obviously
- A little intrusive.
- are fairly intrusive, as well.
- But theyre selling us things. So
- Yeah, exactly. So, I think part of the answer here is just people knowing ahead of time whats going on. People knowing how their datas being used. Much greater transparency in terms of its potential for migrating over into some sales-and-marketing scheme of somebody elses.
- And the more transparent we are, the more customers can make a choice. There are circumstances Ill give one specific example that I talked a while back, about educational technologies being sold and put into schools. And then it turns out that some kid whos going online to communicate with their teacher their data is going to some marketing company that then sells to the kid. I think thats got to be off-limits. So there are going to be some areas where we just say no, even if the consumer is aware of it ahead of time.
- But does it have any teeth, really? I mean, Europe is very strong on these things, and doing a lot of investigations into Google and Facebook and other companies.
- In defense of Google and Facebook, sometimes the European response here is more commercially driven than anything else. As Ive said, there are some countries like Germany, given its history with the Stasi, that are very sensitive to these issues. But sometimes their vendors their service providers who, you know, cant compete with ours are essentially trying to set up some roadblocks for our companies to operate effectively there.
- We have owned the Internet. Our companies have created it, expanded it, perfected it in ways that they cant compete. And oftentimes what is portrayed as high-minded positions on issues sometimes is just designed to carve out some of their commercial interests.
- Lets talk about owning it. We have invented the Internet, we have created the most important technology companies. Losing that rapidly to other companies. Education, STEM, visas, all kinds of things, bringing the best talent here. Right now, diversity is another issue, especially women.
- How do you look at this? How do we change the equation here? Because many people feel that, even though weve got this strong industry, were losing on lots of ground.
- First of all, were not losing it rapidly. But what is true is that our lead will erode if we dont make some good choices now. STEM education, huge priority. Homegrown weve got to have our kids in math and science, and it cant just be a handful of kids. Its got to be everybody. Everybodys got to learn how to code early.
- I saw you were learning to code. Do you encourage your daughters to code?
- I have, and Ive said to
- Do they?
- Well, not as much as I would probably like. Although I think they got started a little bit late. Part of what you want to do is introduce this with the ABCs and the colors. And particularly, focusing on girls participation math, science, technology early is important. Underrepresented groups, African Americans, Latinos. Weve got to get those kids tapped in. Thats the largest-growing part of our population. If they dont have basic digital literacy
- Whats the problem? I mean, because company after company, 70 percent white, 70 percent male
- I think part of the problem is, just generally, our school systems arent doing as good of a job on this, period. Full stop. And then part of whats happening is that we are not helping schools and teachers teach it in an interesting way.
- And what ends up happening is a certain portion of the population just drifts away. Girls, for example we dont lift up models of them being successful in STEM. Somebody has talked about the degree to which we very rarely see portrayed on television female engineers.
- And dont have any jobs, actually.
- Right. So we just have to we have to lift that stuff up. So thats the long term, getting that whole pool of talent focused. More immediately, weve got an urgent need right now. Comprehensive immigration reform would revise our system so that the best and the brightest from around the world come here, the ones who are studying here arent forced to leave. We have been pushing this hard in Congress. So far, Congress has blocked it.
- So what do you do?
- Well, what I did with the executive action that I announced around immigration. There were some areas where I could help to reduce some of the backlog, some of the bureaucracy, [to] make it somewhat easier for talented foreign students to operate here. But we havent gone far enough, and the legislation is whats going yo be required. So weve got to keep on pushing on that. You know, overall, though, the good news is that the ecosystem here is so far ahead of anywhere else. Theres so much talent, so much brain power, so much financing
- It still leaves a lot of people out.
- But the point is is that there is so much more room to grow, I guess. Its not as if this is a mature, finite industry where its a zero-sum game in terms of how many people can be participating. Theres a huge possibility for talent not just homegrown from around the world, continuing to converge here in the United States. Look, what used to be primarily Silicon Valley, now its also Austin, Texas.
- Well, theyre trying. Yeah.
- Yeah. I mean, there are a bunch of other places around the country in Utah and others where people are coalescing. I was at Boise State, and theyre doing all kinds of interesting stuff in the digital space, connecting universities with companies.
- So this is something that we want to democratize and see spread all across the country. We are putting together public/private partnerships around, for example, just getting more engineers. You know, we partnered with Intel and a bunch of companies.
- Are you worried that China and others are graduating more engineers?
- Yes. Although our engineers are still better. But we dont always need the absolute top MIT engineer. Part of what we also need is the standard engineer who can help on a production facility.
- Because, ironically, part of the reason that some tech production jobs have gone overseas is not so much in search of low wages as it is that there are just more engineers at this production level that can really help.
- Wrapping up, I want to ask you something about your personal tech habits.
- Go ahead.
- I know you watch a lot of sports.
- I do.
- Where are you watching things now? Are you watching it on your phone, or do you watch it on television?
- You know, Ill be honest with you
- When it comes to ballgames, Im still usually watching it on TV DVR. But when it comes to highlights, Im usually watching it on an iPad.
- And youre still with the BlackBerry, right?
- I use a BlackBerry mainly because Im so restricted in what I can do that its basically just messages, and its still easier for me to tap off the [BlackBerry]. But basically most of my non-work-related stuff, Im working off the iPad. And the girls all have iPhones, so I can get around an iPhone pretty good.
- Do you wear any wearable shirts or health devices, or things like that?
- Not yet. I think
- You missed the whole Google Glass thing, by the way.
- Well, [laugh] no comment.
- And what devices do you think you would use once you leave office? I know you like a selfie stick.
- Well, right. As BuzzFeed showed. Actually, the first time I used that was when we were in Hawaii for vacation. My photographer, Pete Souza, had a GoPro, and folks were starting to use selfie sticks.
- But do you use any other technology? Its just basically the iPad?
- Its basically the iPad, although I dont have a Fitbit yet, but I work out hard. Word is that these Apple watches might be a good companion for my workout. So Im going to see. Im going to test it out. I dont want to give Tim Cook too big of a plug here
- Yeah. But you just did. [Laugh]
- until Ive actually seen the product. But he tells me its pretty good.
- Absolutely. Last question
- If there was a hashtag for your administration, what would it be?
- Naturally. Thank you so much.
- Great to talk to you. Thank you so much.
Silicon Valley doesnt seem to love President Barack Obama the way it used to, he readily admitted in an interview with Re/codes Kara Swisher* on Friday, after a cybersecurity summit at Stanford that companies including Google, Facebook and Yahoo declined to attend.
The Snowden disclosures were really harmful in terms of the trust between the government and many of these companies, in part because it had an impact on their bottom lines, Obama said.
Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden released a massive trove of internal government documents beginning in 2013, which among other things revealed a secret surveillance program to suck user data from tech companies called PRISM.
Obama acknowledged that the NSA had done too much to gather intelligence internationally, and that its actions had harmed Silicon Valleys ability to compete in countries where people are concerned that using their services means being spied on.
In his discussion with Swisher, Obama paid more attention to the business case than the civil liberties aspect of the American governments widespread online surveillance.
By contrast, tech companies have framed privacy and transparency reforms mostly as a consumer protection issue. Its still unclear how complicit they were, and they are not allowed to say.
When you look back at what weve done, I have constantly tried to update the laws and rules governing how we operate in cyberspace with these new technologies, Obama said. In the case of the NSA, we were probably a little slow. What we did with respect to U.S. persons, what we did in this country, was strictly circumscribed. Generally speaking, I can say with almost complete confidence, that there havent been abuses on U.S. soil.
Its a global internet world, and there are businesses, Swisher interjected.
And thats been the challenge, Obama replied. What is true is and Ive said this publicly, so Im not saying anything thats classified in any way our capacities to scoop up information became so great, and traditionally there havent been any restraints on our intelligence community scooping up information from outside our borders and non-U.S. persons. So what ended up happening is in places like Germany, this had a huge impact not just on government-to-government relationships, but [business relationships].
Obama concluded, I think we have made real progress in narrowing the differences between the national security-privacy balance. There are still some issues like encryption that are challenging.
Schools need to do a better job helping U.S. students excel in technical fields if the country wants to continue to lead the world in technological innovation, President Obama said Friday during an interview with Re/codes Kara Swisher.*
The U.S. seems to be falling behind, Swisher said, asking the president how the country can change the equation, since even though weve got this strong industry, were losing lots of ground.
What is true is that our lead will erode if we dont make some good choices now, the president said. Weve got to have our kids in math and science, and it cant just be a handful of kids. Its got to be everybody. Everybodys got to learn how to code early.
The president has encouraged his two daughters, Sasha and Malia, to learn to code, although they apparently havent taken to it the way hed like.
I think they got started a little bit late, the president conceded. Part of what you want to do is introduce this with the ABCs and the colors, he said. Particular attention needs to be paid to helping girls and other underrepresented groups in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, including African-Americans and Latinos, the president continued.
Whats the problem with the U.S. tech industry when we see a litany of tech companies report workforce statistics that are routinely 70 percent white or 70 percent male, Swisher asked.
Theres been no shortage of reports about women and minorities struggling to break into technical fields as well as proposals for addressing diversity issues in science and technology companies, particularly in Silicon Valley.
I think part of the problem is just generally, our school systems arent doing as good of a job on this, period. Full stop, the president replied. And then, part of whats happening is that we are not helping schools and teachers teach it in an interesting way, he said.
When a certain portion of the population girls, African-American or other minority kids dont have visible role models to look up to in these fields, they feel like these fields arent open to them, the president said.
And what ends up happening is a certain portion of the population just drifts away, he said.
Despite President Barack Obamas recently strained relationship with Silicon Valleys tech giants, hes loyal to the home team when it comes to Europes more aggressive stance towards Google.
The European Union continues to hold out in its long-standing antitrust case against Google (while the U.S. settled years ago over the same issues). In November, the European Parliament passed a non-binding resolution to break up Google, after it made Google hide search results about people who want them zapped.
Obama said the European companies were sore losers and were using their governments to gain footing against American rivals.
In defense of Google and Facebook, sometimes the European response here is more commercially driven than anything else, Obama said in an extensive one-on-one interview with Re/codes Kara Swisher*.
There are some countries like Germany, given its history with the Stasi, that are very sensitive to these issues, the president said. But sometimes their vendors their service providers who cant compete with ours, are essentially trying to set up some roadblocks for our companies to operate effectively there.
We have owned the Internet. Our companies have created it, expanded it, perfected it, in ways they cant compete. And oftentimes what is portrayed as high-minded positions on issues sometimes is designed to carve out their commercial interests.
The president also discussed the ongoing issue over privacy and protection as his administration continues to agitate for the governments ability to collect bulk data on its citizens, while tech companies want to maintain consumers privacy.
I think you own your data, and I think I own my data, Obama said. I think we own our healthcare data, we own our financial data.
However, technology companies often have their interests misaligned with privacy, for instance with advertising-driven businesses models where more user data means more relevant ads.
I think this is an area where, ironically, sometimes I also have tensions with Silicon Valley, Obama said. Folks are quite keen on talking about government intrusion, but some of the commercial models that people have set up are fairly intrusive as well.
These privacy tussles are really a question of transparency, Obama said. Part of the answer here is people knowing ahead of time whats going on. People knowing how their data is used. Much greater transparency in terms of the potential of it migrating over to some sales and marketing scheme of somebody elses. The more transparent we are, the more customers can make a choice.
And theres no wiggle room on privacy when it comes to data about minors being misused, Obama said.
The ongoing tussle over peoples data has pitted President Barack Obama and his administration against companies like Apple and Google, as both sides take up an increasingly crucial debate about the balance between privacy and protection.
These companies are among a number of tech giants that have pushed Washington to end the bulk collection of private data because of customer privacy concerns, while the NSA has said the practice is necessary to fighting terrorism.
As part of a one-on-one interview with Re/code on a wide range of technology topics, Kara Swisher* asked the president whether American citizens should be entitled to control their data, just as the president controls his own private conversations through encrypted email. Its an issue thats increasingly important as people move their conversations and payments to newer, more secure alternatives on mobile phones.
You have encrypted email, shouldnt everybody have encrypted email, or have their protections? she asked.
Obama replied that hes a strong believer in strong encryption . I lean probably further on side of strong encryption than some in law enforcement. He maintained that he is as firm on the topic as he ever has been.
But the issue, Obama said, is the hypothetical. What if the FBI has a good case against someone involved in a terrorist plot and wants to know who that person was communicating with? Traditionally, they could get a court order for a wire tap. Today, a company might tell the FBI they cant technically comply.
Thats not to say Obama would point specifically to a case where encryption stymied an investigation. The first time that an attack takes place in which it turns out that we had a lead and we couldnt follow up on it, the publics going to demand answers, he said.
Obama didnt offer any proposals, but he staked his own position. Ultimately everybody, and certainly this is true for me and my family, we all want to know that if were using a smartphone for transactions, sending messages, having private conversations, that we dont have a bunch of people compromising that process. Theres no scenario in which we dont want really strong encryption.
Sensitive to Silicon Valley concerns about government eavesdropping, Obama added, This isnt bulk collection. This isnt fishing expeditions by government.
President Barack Obama is looking for a workout companion and were not talking about a spotter.
Among the topics discussed with Re/codes Kara Swisher* in an exclusive interview on Friday, the president talked about his tech gadgets and about one in particular that has piqued his interest: The not-yet-released Apple Watch.
I dont have a Fitbit yet, but I work out hard, he said. Word is these Apple Watches might be a good companion for my workouts. So Im gonna see, Im gonna test it out.
I dont want to give [Apple CEO] Tim Cook too big of a plug here until Ive actually seen the product, [but] he tells me its pretty good.
Obama chooses his gadgets carefully, and he certainly does not suffer from device overload. Far from it. He sticks to his trusty BlackBerry Im so restricted in what I can do, its mainly just messages, he said and his Apple iPad, which he uses for non-work-related stuff.
But hes open to expanding his range. Obama admitted to enjoying the selfie stick (ugh), which was introduced to him on a recent vacation to Hawaii. And of course, Apple and Fitbit can now race to the post office to get their gear into his hands.
The U.S. intelligence agencys bulk data collection efforts and the governments slow response have strained the White Houses relationship with Silicon Valley, President Barack Obama said on Friday.
Obama said his relationship with Silicon Valley and the tech community has historically been pretty good. But the revelations of the National Security Agencys mass data collection by former contractor Edward Snowden were really harmful in terms of the trust between government and many of these companies, in part because of the impact it had on their bottom lines.
The president made the remarks in a wide-ranging interview with Re/codes Kara Swisher in Silicon Valley, where he headlined a first-ever White House summit on cyber security issues and was scheduled to attend a Democratic party fundraiser.
The interview touched on everything from cyber warfare to the presidents quandary over which fitness tracker to road test.
These strained relations between the White House and Silicon Valley were placed in sharp focus Friday after the chief executives of Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo declined White House invitations to attend the summit and a private lunch with the president.
These companies are among a number of tech giants that have pushed Washington to end the bulk collection of private data because of customer privacy concerns, but little has happened to curb the NSAs practices.
The White Houses cyber security gathering, which took place at Stanford University, marked the first time the administration has hosted a summit with corporate, government and privacy officials to discuss issues around how to protect U.S. computer systems as well as consumers privacy.
The recent alleged attack by North Korea on Sony Pictures Entertainment was a major impetus for the summit because it showed how unprepared companies were to protect their networks from malicious attacks. Hackers collected more than a billion personal data records in a record 1,541 data breaches last year, according to digital security company Gemalto.
Attacks on companies like Sony arent acts of war, the president said, but I would consider them acts of property damage [and] commercial theft that are serious, and whenever a criminal act like that is state-sponsored, its a problem.
North Koreas alleged attacks were more serious than data breaches caused by hackers who arent state-sponsored, the president said, because they caused actual damage to Sonys tech systems. Similar attacks on the nations electric grid, air traffic control system or financial systems could be far more devastating.
Its not like North Korea is particularly good at this, but look at the damage they can do, he said. China and Russia are very good. Iran is good.
Many companies simply arent able to protect themselves against those sorts of attacks, and there needs to be cooperation between the government and industry when they happen. Were hugely vulnerable, he said. Weve started with critical infrastructure thats an area with heavy involvement with those industries, whether its Wall Street and the financial sector, utilities, our air traffic control system, all of that increases our [dependence] on the digital base that theyre working on.
One of the challenges is a lot of this is private sector; the vast bulk of it is private sector. The government has to be able to not only work with each individual company, but youve got to be able to pull those companies together so theyre working together more effectively, he said.
One of the things that makes it such a challenging problem is all you need is one weak link, he continued. You can have nine companies that have great protocols, authentication systems, you name it, and then you have one thats not doing a good job and that penetrates the entire system.
As I mentioned in the CEO roundtable, a comment that was made by one of my national security team this is more like basketball than football in the sense that theres no clear line between offense and defense. Things are going back and forth all the time, he said. We have great capabilities here, but there are other countries that have great capabilities as well.
Earlier in the day at the summit, Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke about the need for stronger protections for consumers who are routinely finding their data compromised by hackers. Apple and Google have both been criticized by the Obama administration and British government for new encryption technologies that have been built into mobile operating systems which would make it impossible for them to turn over customer data to law enforcement.
The president said he understood why the companies had taken those steps. While the needs of law enforcement have to be weighed against Americans civil liberties, he said he thinks that the needle falls on the side of helping law enforcement prevent terrorist attacks.
I think they are properly responding to a market demand, Obama said, adding that he thinks Americans should have strongly encrypted data like he and his family. However, he said he was sympathetic to law enforcement because I know the kind of pressure theyre under.
The folks in favor of air-tight encryption also want to be protected from terrorists, he said.
Another issue President Obama focused on Friday was the need for greater privacy protections for Americans.
It has been almost three years since the White House unveiled its idea for a privacy bill of rights, but Congress hasnt accomplished much on the issue since then. Financial services and health care providers operate under stricter security requirements to protect consumer financial or health records, but there arent similar requirements for other industries.
I think you own your data. I think I own my data, he said. I think this is an area where ironically, sometimes I also have tensions with Silicon Valley because folks are quite keen on talking about government intrusion and some of them are intrusive as well.
Greater transparency could help some of those issues, he said, although there is a need for legislation to ensure that student data collected in schools isnt shared and used to market products to kids.
Europeans have much stronger privacy standards and have been more active in investigating how companies like Google and Facebook handle data, Swisher noted.
In defense of Google and Facebook, sometimes the European response here is more commercially driven than anything else, the president said. As Ive said, there are some countries like Germany, given its history with the Stasi, that are very sensitive to these issues. Sometimes their vendors, their service providers who cant compete with ours are essentially trying to set up some roadblocks for our companies to operate effectively.
There were a few lighter moments in the interview, including when Swisher asked the president what sort of technologies he uses other than an iPad or his ubiquitous BlackBerry. Sensor-equipped shirts? Health devices?
I dont have a Fitbit yet, but I work out hard, he said. Word is these Apple Watches might be a good companion for my workouts. So Im gonna see, Im gonna test it out.
Some European teasing
Barack Obama has claimed that America owns the internet and that providers in Europe can't compete with American progress.
"Our companies have created it, expanded it, perfected it in ways that they can’t compete," The US president said during an interview with Re/code.
"And oftentimes what is portrayed as high-minded positions on issues sometimes is just designed to carve out some of their commercial interests."
The president was discussing European officials investigating US companies such as Google and Facebook as part of the EU "right to be forgotten" which allows citizens to petition Google to have links from certain search results removed.
"In defense of Google and Facebook, sometimes the European response here is more commercially driven than anything else," the president said.
"Sometimes their vendors their service providers who, you know, can’t compete with ours are essentially trying to set up some roadblocks for our companies to operate effectively there."
Predictably, the president's comments have not been well received over this side of the Atlantic.
Internet millionaire and former government online advocate Martha Lane Fox came out swinging on Radio 4's Today programme.
"I find it tragic that somebody who should be a symbol for the best that the internet represents has descended into this parochialism and jingoistic rabble-rousing," she said.
"And you can only wonder what lobbying powers got to him. Well, we know exactly what lobbying powers got to him, the huge big supercompamnies that don't really, i think, need that much sympathy.
"So I feel very upset that somebody who is in such a position of influence should make such false statements. It wasn't just US companies that invented - i think his words were "created" the internet. It was a collaborative effort across multiple places.
"That's what the internet is. It's a huge global network and it doesn't work if one company, or country, owns it."
The European Commission has also responded to the president's comments, calling them "out of line".
“Regulation should make it easier for non-EU companies to access the single market,” a spokesperson told the FT .
“It is in [US companies’] interest that things are enforced in a uniform manner.”
The EU's so called "right to be forgotten" law, was intended to allow people to compel Google to remove search results that invade their privacy, defame or insult them, or spread misinformation.
Occasionally, it has been used for more trivial means. Such as when this concert pianist demanded to have a bad review taken down .